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Bosnia's November Elections: Dayton Stumbles


Despite five years and five billion US dollars of international community investment in Bosnia, the 11 November Bosnian elections demonstrated once again that international engagement has failed to provide a sustainable basis for a functioning state, capable of surviving an international withdrawal.

The elections highlighted once again the near complete failure -- in the face of determined nationalist extremism -- of an international approach that places emphasis on hopes that moderate, co-operative Bosnian partners will come to power through elections. The elections also revealed the complete unsuitability of the present Dayton constitutional structures, as well as the international community implementing structures and policies. The false premises upon which current international community policy is based will continue to produce few positive results, particularly in the near power-vacuum created by these elections. It thus remains the case, that were it not for the significant international presence in Bosnia, and especially the NATO presence, the Dayton Peace Accords would rapidly unravel.

Many in the international community had naively hoped that democratic change in Zagreb and Belgrade would translate into change among Bosnia's Croats and Serbs. To the contrary, these democratic victories appear to have energised Bosnia's ethnic extremists. The pre-election campaign of the Croat Democratic Union, for instance, was based on separatist rhetoric and defiance of the international community. Bosnian Serb candidates -- including western favourite Mladen Ivanic -- linked the position of the Republika Srpska (RS) as a part of Bosnia with Kosovo’s position in Yugoslavia (FRY). Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslavia's new President, openly supported the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) of Radovan Karadzic.

The precise impact of the election results will be impossible to gauge until coalitions are formed, a process which could last well into the first months of 2001. Even then, the resulting coalitions may be extremely fragile, and therefore unable to act decisively in key areas of peace process implementation. These coalitions may prove highly unstable, and could end in votes of no confidence by mid-year 2001, forcing new elections. Should the coalitions hold together, they may prove unable to overcome the nationalist parties' efforts to obstruct the Dayton Peace Accords.

Elections at the level of the Bosnian central government, the Federation and the Cantons, failed either to oust the nationalist parties entirely, or to give them an absolute victory. In the RS, the SDS came out as the clear victor, winning the presidency and vice-presidency, and achieving a clear lead in elections to the RS National Assembly. Mladen Ivanic's Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) performed sufficiently well to ensure him the premiership of the RS, as well as to enable him to set conditions for entering into coalition with the SDS. Ivanic's entry into coalition with the SDS could cost the RS all US aid, in which case the harsh economic and social conditions in the RS could overwhelm the new government.

In the Federation, the HDZ won an absolute majority among Croat voters. The SDP scored a higher vote than the SDA, but with smaller margins than expected. SDS and HDZ scare tactics evidently persuaded some Bosniacs of the need to maintain ethnic unity in the face of continued Serb and Croat homogenisation, by voting for the hitherto dominant Bosniac party, the SDA or by voting for the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH), led by wartime Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.

A major winner in these elections is Haris Silajdzic, whose SBiH gained sufficient votes to make him the king-maker in several Federation cantons, the Federation parliament, and quite possibly the BiH parliament. Highlighting the international community's failure to implement the Dayton Peace Accords, Silajdzic has laid out significant conditions that the international community must meet if it wishes him to enter into a ruling coalition with the SDP and other non-nationalist parties. He has refused to enter any coalition unless the international community can guarantee a significant increase in refugee return, the dismantling of parallel institutions in the Federation, the functioning of the central government and necessary steps towards sustainable economic development.

Silajdzic's conditions, though they may seem radical to some elements of the international community and provoke cries of "blackmail" and "unacceptable", are simply a call for the international community to implement Dayton. Thus Silajdzic is the first Bosnian politician to hold the international community to account for its share of the responsibility for the non-implementation of Dayton and to challenge it to meet specific time deadlines to implement certain portions of the Accords as the price for his participation in an SDP-led coalition. Moreover, Silajdzic has set specific deadlines, so that failure to achieve certain goals in implementing Dayton could cause him to pull out of any ruling coalition.

Silajdzic's demands seem to acknowledge the reality that no matter how the coalitions are formed, both the BiH and Federation Parliaments may well remain ineffectual, due to obstruction by the SDA, HDZ and SDS. These parties together may have sufficient votes to obstruct key legislative reforms and disrupt the functioning of the central government.

Given the series of disappointing election results since the first post-Dayton elections in 1996, it is time for the international community to rethink an inherited strategy that places unrealistic hopes on elections. Instead, the international community should fully exercise the powers given to it under the Dayton Peace Accord to attack the economic and political causes of the tenacity of Bosnian nationalism.

This report highlights critical issues demanding immediate decisions: How is the influence of extremists to be curbed? To what extent should the international community try directly to manage a protectorate in Bosnia? And to what extent, and in what respects, should the governance provisions in the Dayton Agreement be modified? Each of these issues will be the subject of forthcoming ICG reports.




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